The legacy of Venus and William James Place lives on
The Place family may just be one of the biggest on the island.
Years ago, the list that Dean Rubaine and his sister Linda Trott started compiling off the top of their heads stretched to six feet.
As they talked to people and dug through records, the number of 11in by 10in sheets they were writing on grew.
For the sake of space, they taped the pieces of paper together and rolled them up like a scroll.
“We went to the City Hall’s foyer and it stretched from the door of the Corporation of Hamilton office to the door of the theatre,” Linda said.
The list soon outgrew that place too.
“Then we went to Whitney Middle School and we had it spread across tables. Looking at it I realised I was related to half of my class at Prospect Primary. I used to walk home with some of my classmates and did not even know they were my cousins.”
Today the document stretches more than 51 feet when fully unfurled – and keeps getting bigger.
Back in 2019 senior members of the Place family decided to do something with what was by then “decades of genealogy research and record keeping”.
The idea was to hold a family gathering in 2020 but Covid-19 put that plan on the back burner. Instead the family created a WhatsApp chat group to stay connected.
This year they decided to move forward. A two-day reunion of the Place family is set for next month at Clearwater Beach.
“The booking for the property space is 500 per day,” Dean said. “With the responses we have had now, we may be looking at more than that per day.”
The reunion is for the descendants of Venus and William James Place. The couple were born around 1816, married in Southampton, and had seven children: Isabella, Francis Augustus, Daniel, Francis Ruth, Henry, Nancy and James.
William died in 1894 at the age of 78 and Venus died the next year at age 80.
“The Place family is a major component of Bermuda, culturally and historically,” Linda said. “We are wide – as we can see from how our family tree has expanded just in a few weeks.”
Descendants include Reginald Place who started Place’s Gombeys in 1957 with his wife, Mabel, who was well known for making beautiful gombey costumes.
“Before she started making them more decorative, most Bermuda gombey costumes were red and white,” said Andre Place.
His father, Leon Place, took over the gombey troupe from Reginald; Andre took it over a few years ago.
Relatives include LeeAnn Liles, a local author; Shangri-La Durham Thompson, an educator and writer; Mike Watson, a veteran long-distance runner; and Lefroy Brownlow Place, who is believed to be Bermuda’s oldest citizen and will celebrate his 107th birthday on July 24.
As they researched their family tree, Linda and Dean learnt a lot from “Brownlow” and his sister Hilda.
“We are looking at names on the page that they actually remember,” Linda said.
Brownlow is the great grandson of Daniel Place and the son of Alfred Brownlow “AB” Place, who formed the Union Printery with several men, including Dean’s father, James Rubaine.
AB Place also ran the Bermuda Recorder newspaper for 45 years, starting in 1925.
“He was inspired by the teachings of Marcus Garvey,” Dean said.
“The Garveyite movement was first organised in Bermuda at the Angle Street Church of God. Marcus Garvey taught [Black] people to better themselves. At that time racism and racial discrimination was pretty tough in this community.”
Dean recently retired from the Bermuda Regiment, where he was a national disaster risk reduction and mitigation analyst; Linda works in human resources at the Bermuda Hospitals Board. Together, the siblings are approaching the reunion as though it were a military campaign.
There are committees and subcommittees; there are team leaders. They have also organised different colours of shirts to represent different clans of the Place family.
The siblings unknowingly started compiling separate family trees before they worked out what the other was doing.
“We both lead busy lives,” Linda said. “People don’t spend as much time together as a family.”
When they were little, one of the highlights of the year was Hallowe'en at their great grandmother Agnes Place Weller’s home on Wellington Back Road in St George’s. Agnes was descended from Venus and William Place’s son Henry.
“It was her birthday on October 31,” Dean said. “Everyone in the family would gather. Some people pedalled their bike over the bridge to be there. Our great grandmother had 13 children and we all spent a lot of time together.”
It is gatherings such as those that Linda thinks about when she thinks of family.
“Some of the family did not believe in Hallowe'en for religious reasons, but they would still come to pay their respects,” she said. “They would not come in the house, though, and stayed out in the yard.”
Her hope is that this reunion has that similar family flavour and gives their youngest relatives a sense of pride in themselves.
“We want to let our young men and women know that we all have the same blood running through us,” she said. “We can stop the violence and strengthen our legacy. The Place family is strong. There are some families who phased out after the second generation but we are now going into our sixth and seventh generation.”
There are two days planned. The first will be an informal gathering and history lessons have been organised for the second.
“Place’s Gombeys will be performing of course,” said Dean. “There will be family in-house vendors and all kinds of stuff going on.”
The Place family reunion will be held on July 22 and 23 at Clearwater Beach from 10am to 7pm. To RSVP, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or join the Descendants of William James Place & Venus Williams Bermuda on Facebook.